Rural China: Imperial Control in the Nineteenth Century

Rural China: Imperial Control in the Nineteenth Century

Rural China: Imperial Control in the Nineteenth Century

Rural China: Imperial Control in the Nineteenth Century

Excerpt

This is a study of the rationale, methods, and effects of the system of control over rural China as exercised by the Ch’ing government during the nineteenth century. Owing to the limited availability of relevant information and my desire to bring this study to a close within a reasonable period of time, I do not propose to explore every aspect of the subject or to give a full account of those aspects with which I deal. Some omissions are in fact quite conspicuous. For instance, the ethnic minorities that dwelt in some parts of the empire as well as the rural inhabitants of its outlying regions are not considered. I hope, however, that despite the lacunae that remain, the results presented here will convey a tolerably clear impression of the situation that prevailed in the empire during the period.

Such a study may serve some useful purposes. Imperial China was an agricultural country in which rural inhabitants constituted the overwhelming majority of the population. No discussion of Chinese history or society can be adequate without taking into account the impact of the government upon the millions that lived in the villages and the attitudes and behavior which the people exhibited under various conditions at various periods of time. The nineteenth century is particularly interesting, for it was a period of dynastic decline and political transition. A study of rural China during this period will reveal some of the forces and factors that contributed to the decline of the imperial system and will perhaps also furnish useful clues for interpreting the historical developments of later times.

Descriptions and narratives of Chinese rural life in the nineteenth century are not lacking, but they are often not the results of careful investigation. Few of them offer painstaking analyses of the phenomena observed; some contain a variety of misconceptions and misinterpretations. The unresolved divergencies in interpretation that abound in some of these writings often prove bewildering to the reader. There is a need for a more systematic treatment of the mattera need which the present study presumes partially to fill. Moreover, although much has been written on the general administrative system of the empire, relatively little has been written either in Chi-

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